March 22, 2012

Procrastination Isn’t What You Think It Is.


“Procrastination” does not equal “lazy.” This is one of my favorite things to tell people who procrastinate, as so many of us do!

Procrastination stems from the fear that “I don’t know how to do this perfectly.” You can say this in a number of ways, including, “I’m not smart enough,” and, “I’m not good enough.”  Or, your inner voice might say, “I have to do this perfectly,” or, “I have to show everyone that I know how.”

When these negative feelings are triggered, we do everything we can to avoid having “I’m not good enough” confirmed once again, or having people see our deepest secret—that we aren’t perfect. We hold off doing whatever the task is until the last possible second—until the pain of not completing it at all is greater than our fear that we can’t do it perfectly.

It can be helpful to know that the part of us that stores these negative feelings—what I call Learned Distress—is 2 years old. You wouldn’t yell at a toddler for being scared, and it can be helpful to have this same compassion for yourself when you are feeling reluctant to start or finish something challenging.  It’s also helpful to know that Learned Distress is just a feeling that you can get rid of, so that the part of you that feels good about being you can come to the surface and allow you to accomplish what you want to do.  (I call this part of you your natural well-being.)

The well-being state in this “getting stuff done” arena has a couple of feelings associated with it:

1. Comfort with your own unique way of doing things (instead of following “their” rules perfectly)
2. A sense that you have everything you need within you to achieve your goals

What’s the result when someone removes the negative feelings that generate procrastination?

Often, without even noticing that something is different, people find themselves doing the very task they dreaded easily and without resistance. In fact, I often have to point out to my clients that they accomplished something that seemed impossible just a week or two earlier.

As an example, a college student was struggling in his humanities class and was dreading the paper he had to write for it, so we began to work on this procrastination theme. As he removed layers of “I don’t know how,” he found a subject that excited him and decided to write about that. He was so excited about it that he actually finished his paper early—a first for him! He found that he did indeed have the ability to do it, and he found a subject that fit his uniqueness. He kept telling me, “It was so easy and fun!” He had never felt this way about writing a paper before. His teacher told him it was the best paper she had read all year.

What does the voice in your head say when you’re struggling to start or finish something? What would it be like, instead, if you just felt excited about the task ahead?  I hope you’ll comment below and share your thoughts.


Editor: Hayley Samuelson


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